Distorting Reality with Dan Streit

Dan Streit is a Los Angeles based editor and director, with a background in music videos, commercials and short films. He’s directed videos for clients including A$AP Rocky, McDonald's, Beats by Dre, and Brockhampton.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Dan to discuss how he got his start editing and directing, his toolkit for approaching VFX, and the making of his wonderfully weird A$AP Rocky music video.

Hi Dan! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you start by telling us a bit about your career thus far?

I grew up editing, so I learned editing as a kid and then I majored in editing in college. That’s where I realized that I didn’t just want to edit other people's work, I like editing my own stuff. That gave me more of a drive to come up with new ideas.

When I was in college, and resources were small, I tried to merge editing into creating things from scratch. I started learning more visual effects, more animation-type stuff. I got into 2D animation, collaging still images or, you know, rotoscoping, and collaging things together and making it animated.

I started venturing out into different animation styles and getting more opportunities to direct, using my background in editing to prepare myself for what I wanted on set.

What was your first “break” into directing?

When I was in college, I interned for a music management company, working on video content for their musicians. I hadn't directed any videos yet, but because I was able to experiment on the computer and I was firsthand with managers, I was able to transition. The first video I did was a video for Jack Ü (Skrillex and Diplo) called "Take Ü There."

They had all this preexisting performance and lifestyle footage but they needed a video. We pitched animating over their footage and editing it together, and then that became the music video. While working at this same job, Dillon Francis had a video they were going to shelve. I proposed to them, what if I took all this footage, rotoscoped them out of everything that was shot, and then re-contextualized it in a collage-animated style. That ended up becoming the video for that.

Those are two projects where it was basically two completely different styles that ended up being directed by me because they had a post-production animation direction to them, which I was handling with my friends at the time.

From there, it just became like, here's another opportunity to direct a video. They want something live action, can you pitch something? I was hungry to continue directing.

How would you describe your editing style?

What I do incorporates a lot of visual techniques in post-production. Whether it's incorporating 3D animation or distorted VFX, I try to make things fun and engaging and re-watchable.

How do you think your background in editing has impacted your directing style?

[Editing] definitely helps me going into a shoot, knowing if we got it or not, knowing how it's going to edit all together. I think that [for] anyone who's directing, I would encourage spending time on the computer and pre-visualizing how things will come together when you shoot it.

[It also] helped me understand that you need to capture more than you [think you] need, because you're going to want to have options. I think it also has helped with VFX supervision and playing that role on set. Knowing how a person might look flat, but knowing how it can be elevated in post.

If you're directing, do you also inherently edit what you're directing?

That was my reality for the past seven years or so. My entire directing portfolio is also edited by me. Moving into the commercial world, there’s more of a dynamic of getting various people involved and allowing yourself to separate the director from the editor, which is definitely very healthy.

What kind of projects are you doing?

The projects I do now are mostly in the music video, commercial, or short film world. Those are my mediums for the most part. I've been doing a lot of music videos the past six or seven years, and am slowly transitioning into more commercial stuff.

What tools are you using?

There are certain tools that I use quite frequently. The [Green Screen] background removal is my number one, just because there's so much rotoscoping in my work. It’s been so good for me.

What aspects of the software are you using in your process?

Removal has been severely useful for me to shorten the process of rotoscoping, especially in development stages or concepting. It's been really helpful. I would find myself rotoscoping in After Effects and be like, wait, this entire detail… I could just do it in one click. So that saved my ass a handful of times in that video.

And then I also used Frame Interpolation to create these morphing effects between images. It's something that we've tried out a lot in Premiere. Frame blending and stuff. I haven't seen any other service do the frame interpolation as smoothly and uniquely as Runway. I've been messing around a little bit more with Infinite Image, like the image extensions.

Had you used AI tools before?

There’s a website called Artbreeder that I was using for a little while. It’s great but it has a limited functionality to it. That was all the experience I had, before checking out Runway.

Can you walk us through A$AP Rocky’s "Shittin' Me" video?

The intro sequence consists entirely of text-to-image stills, with added depth map extrusion and digital camera movement + elements to bring them to life.

The pedestrian driver shots starting at :45 were converted to image sequences, which we ran through Image to Image tools to create a distorted frame-by-frame animated effect.

Here we used a NeRF model we generated to create a wild, dynamic camera movement that shoots through the car.

The “fan photo” cutaways between :54 - :57 are also outpainted images built out of iPhone images we had the extras take as Rocky exited the car. All of the surrounding people in these images are AI-generated.

At 1:32, I outpainted the background to visually extend the scene a bit & tracked it back into the shot.

At 2:10, we Inpainted a still of Rocky laying on the floor to add a tube coming out of his face and more detail around him.

At 2:16, we used AI face enhancement tools to create various versions of Rocky with different hairstyles, facial expressions, etc.

For complex rotoscoping work, we used Runway’s background removal tool.

By leveraging the time-saving techniques and new creative tools afforded by AI, Dan consistently produces captivating, offbeat visuals. His A$AP Rocky music video was honored as a finalist at the 2023 AI Film Festival and has garnered millions of views.

Find more of Dan and his work on Instagram.

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